Police and FSB agents in the Russian Republic of Daghestan have detained the administrator of an Instagram page for organising protests against concerts and other cultural events.
Akhmed Israfilov was detained in the Daghestani capital, Makhachkala, on 6 March on exremism charges.
The ‘Imamat of Daghestan’ Instagram page he created and administered has repeatedly called for concerts by Russian artists to be cancelled in Daghestan, and also spoke out against November’s aborted ‘AniDag’ anime festival.
A spokesperson for the Federal Security Service (FSB) told OC Media that Israfilov was charged with ‘publicly calling for extremist activities’ after extremist language was found in several of his online posts. The charges carry a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison.
According to the FSB, other Instagram users that reposted threats to the organisers and participants of concerts and the festival were also being investigated.
The Ministry of Internal Affairs of Daghestan told OC Media that the posts were identified by employees of the Center for Countering Extremism and Terrorism.
They said the center found that Israfilov coordinated several pages on Instagram and noted that a group of people who disrupted November’s anime festival and threatened both the organisers and participants with reprisals were wearing t-shirts that said ‘Imamat of Daghestan’ on them.
The authorities said that it was Israfilov who called for such actions through his Instagram page. The ministry also reported that Israfilov was warned several times that such posts were illegal.
‘I am an extremist now’
Another frequent critic of cultural events in Daghestan, local actor Eldar Iraziyev, claimed on 28 February that law enforcement agencies had included him on a list of extremists.
In a video posted on his Instagram page, Iraziyev, the founder of the Pure Heart charitable foundation, insisted he had ‘never tried to do anything but good things for this republic’.
‘We treat sick children with your help in our Foundation, and my project Highlanders of the Mind also gives only smiles [to people], without demanding a single penny from the government. We only did good things and at the end I was labeled this way. I am an extremist now’, Iraziyev said.
[Read on OC Media: Not welcome in Daghestan — anime, K-pop, and rap]
The spokesperson for the Daghestani Interior Ministry declined to confirm if Iraziyev’s name had been placed on a list of extremists.
Iraziyev was at the centre of online condemnation of the AniDag festival, after a video of participants rehearsing in costume was leaked by one of the venue’s staff.
In a post he later deleted, Iraziyev called for the participants to disperse, warning that ‘the festival of gays and transvestites in this city is not far off’.
According to AniDag organiser Saida Tuchalova, after this, a mob of around 100–150 angry young men gathered outside a theatre in Makhachkala, where the event was to take place. The men, according to her, promised to ‘bury’, ‘shoot’, and ‘kill’ the participants of the festival, accusing them of ‘corrupting’ the youth of Daghestan.
On 27 December, the organisers appealed to the Prosecutor’s Office of Daghestan about the insults and threats that had disrupted the event.
The festival’s lawyer, Patina Nuradinova, told OC Media that Israfilov’s detention was not related to the statement they filed with the police.
She said that on 16 January, the Prosecutor's Office forwarded the complaint to the Centre for Countering Extremism and Terrorism, however, neither the witnesses nor the participants themselves had since been interviewed.
According to Nuradinova, the Sovietsky District Police Department has sent the case materials to the Prosecutor's Office to determine who has jurisdiction.
The Interior Ministry confirmed that Akhmed Israfilov’s detention was not related to the complaint by AniDag’s organisers.
Pressure on cultural events
In the past year, theatrical performances, film screenings, music concerts, and more have come under pressure from conservative voices in Daghestan.
Calls to prevent ‘immoral’ performances have been led by several high profile local celebrities.
On 25 February, mixed martial arts star and UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov appealed to the local authorities to punish the organisers of a Russian production of the play ‘Hunting for Men’, which was shown at a theatre in Makhachkala.
Nurmagomedov accused them of bringing ‘porn’ to Daghestan after a video of part of the play was posted online in which the female lead, wearing revealing clothing, seduces a man.
[Read on OC Media: MMA fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov calls for censorship of ‘pornographic’ play]
Nurmagomedov spoke out in September against a concert by Russian rapper Egor Kreed, which despite being sold out, was cancelled after the organisers said they ‘couldn’t guarantee the safety of visitors’ following online threats.
In January, a film screening of a performance by Korean pop group BTS was cancelled after several Daghestani groups spoke out against the show on Instagram, calling it a film about ‘Korean homosexuals’.